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A Gen-X Parent’s Guide to Music for Your Kids

 

A musical education is an important part of parenting.  My father, knowingly or not, passed along some key moments in my musical life that exposed me to Cheap Trick, Fleetwood Mac, and The Rolling Stones.  Every time I hear “Go Your Own Way” I’m transported back to sitting in my parent’s family room recalling the first strums of Lindsey Buckingham’s guitar and the power of the chorus blaring from record needle and speakers. Music is part of my childhood and some of that experience came from what I heard from my parents.

The following list of 18 albums is what you need to breakthrough the latest Kidz Bop CD of vacuous pop hits.  Why 18? Because you have 18 years as a parent to influence you kids before they leave for college. To help you increase your children’s Music IQ, this list is here to help. It’s meant to be an education on 1980s and 1990s music.  Music I grew up with as a kid and as a college student. It is what I intend to expose to my kids through the years so they know great music.

Sure you’ll have your own thoughts of what is missing or why something made the list.  Please leave a comment as I’d love to see what others think and mostly what I may need to add to the list. So please leave your thoughts in the comments section and thank you for reading.

 

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David Bowie “Young Americans”

“Right” is one of Bowie’s greatest musical contributions and this record combines 70s/80s Euro rock with American soul music.  Luther Vandross is even a backup singer.  I could listen to this over and over again with songs like “Fame”, “Fascination” and “Somebody Up There Likes Me” standing out with the oh so perfect “Right.”  Having kids who know all the songs on “Young Americans” will give your children a musical advantage to the other kids who may have heard “Let’s Dance” and that’s it.

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Nirvana “In Utero”

This is possibly the most controversial choice from a band on this list.  Sure Nirvana belongs, but shouldn’t I have selected “Nevermind” over “In Utero”?  “Nevermind” is amazing; however “In Utero” has a solid mix of the commercially successful tracks and the hard-core punk roots found on the band’s debut “Bleach.” Some notable favorites to share with the kids are “Heart-Shaped Box”, “All Apologies”, and don’t miss “Milk It.” Your kids may not understand it at first and you may reconsider and think “Smells Like Teen Spirit” will get a better reception, but stay with it.  Your parenting will be rewarded when they one day appreciate your going with the final, masterful end to Nirvana as part of their musical education.  They’ll find out about “Nevermind” later and they’ll love it, but they might miss this great record if you don’t expose them to it early.


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U2 “Joshua Tree”

Long before they were the band that auto-downloaded their new album to everyone’s iPod, U2 was an extremely talented band still trying to break into the U.S. charts in a big way.  This was their first huge American moneymaker.  It deserves your child’s attention for those times you want to relax and enjoy a moment together with “Bullet in the Sky” or “One Tree Hill.”

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Frankie Goes to Hollywood “Welcome to the Pleasuredome”

How can I choose a double-LP featuring mystical animals having sex on a music list for parents?  Because it’s my list and of all the 1980s Euro alternative bands out there, Frankie Goes to Hollywood deserves to be part of any Gen-X perspective music education.  They were controversial, sang about safe sex long before it was acceptable, and there’s a lot of depth to this musical journey.  The long instrumental exploration that is “The World is My Oyster” begins a complex, musical adventure full of political commentary packaged in dance inspiring music from vocalists Holly Johnson and Paul Rutherford.
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Van Halen “1984” 

You can’t raise musically educated children without them knowing about the mess that is Van Halen.  Some day they may learn about the constant lead singer curse that plagues this band.  Or they may want to learn electric guitar and then hear the name Eddie Van Halen, wondering who he is..? Therefore you must expose them to Van Halen. The final days of David Lee Roth where the success went insane and songs like “Jump” and “Panama” dominated early MTv with too many moments of David Lee Roth running around in spandex.  As ridiculous it all sounds the reality is this record is amazing.  And what better way to create intrigue in your music collection than a toddler smoking with angel wings?

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The Police “Zenyatta Mondatta”

While any Police choice will do, “Zenyatta Mondatta” features one song that will capture most kids attention – “De, Do, Do Do, De, Da, Da, Da.” “Canary in a Coal Mine” and “Man in a Suitcase” also are songs you can sing-a-long with kids that have up beat, positive notes sure to make any car ride to school fun and musically rich.  Sure there’s “Don’t Stand So Close to Me” about a schoolgirl’s crush for her teach, but younger kids are unlikely to get that nuanced.  Zenyatta Mondatta is a great way to introduce your kids to Sting and The Police.

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Lenny Kravitz “Mama Said”

Lenny Kravitz’s music is so derivative from many influences like Prince, Jimi Hendrix, Smoky Robinson, and Stevie Wonder.  “Mama Said” is an album that captures all these influences so well.  The songs are positive and mostly sing about love.  Plus what mother isn’t going to enjoy the kids singing “My Mama Said…”? It’s fun, creatively rich and enough funk and soul to be authentic but not pretentious.  Plus it’s good for kids to know about one of the coolest guys in rock from the past 30 years.


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Red Hot Chili Peppers “Blood Sugar Sex Magik” 

This is Anthony Kiedis, Flea, Chad Smith and John Frusciante at their peak.  There is so much energy and sentimentality in this record to make for a significant experience in any child’s life.  What kid isn’t going to enjoy playing some sport with “Give It Away” or “Funky Monks” humming in his or her head? Think of the edge your kid will have with this as their soundtrack in life.

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The Dead Kennedys “Give Me Convenience or Give Me Death”

Okay, so you might want to wait a long, long while before introducing The Dead Kennedys to your child.  “Too Drunk to Fuck” and “Kinky Sex Makes the World Go ‘Round” likely may end in Child Protective Services showing up at your door. However, we are in the iPod Age and you can simply remove some of the songs and still expose your child to one of the best punk bands ever. There is no one –no. one. – like Jello Biafra in music history.  This is by far his best lyrical masterpiece and there’s just too much here to not miss that you must find some time to expose your impressionable child to punk rock.  Your child will think you’re either nuts or a genius for including them in this musical journey.  If they think you’re nuts, that is an okay response.  So either way you’ve won parenting.

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The Smiths “Louder Than Bombs”

“The Queen is Dead” is a more concise excellent example of The Smiths, but singing about a double-decker bus crashing into you and killing you probably isn’t the best image to imprint in one’s mind (yes, I know I just recommend The Dead Kennedy’s a second ago.  Please disregard that now.)  “Louder Than Bombs” is a more intellectual endeavor than the other Smiths efforts.  “Panic” and “Ask” are great sing along road trip songs the whole family can enjoy. Tracks like “Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want” might become your children’s new version of begging come time at the toy store, so this recommendation could backfire.  But Please, Please, Please stay with it as The Smiths are essential music for many a teenager moment that is bound to be thankful for “Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now” even if that misery is misery your child feels you have brought on them.

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Depeche Mode “Music for the Masses”

This is a rather mellow Depeche Mode record, yet that’s what makes it so powerful.  There is a beauty in songs like “Never Let Me Down Again” which brings us back up from a lesson learned, to carry on, to have faith in our best friend, even with their fault. Plus you can watch the music video featuring a BMW Isetta. Followed by tracks like the powerful “Strangelove”, “Music for the Masses” is great introduction to Depeche Mode that may lead to dancing in front of mirrors and spinning around like Dave Gahan.

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Talking Heads “Stop Making Sense”

This is the only movie soundtrack to make this list.  It brings together several seminal Talking Heads hits into one album that captures so much of what is genius about David Byrne and the significance that is The Talking Heads in the early 1980s. This is also the only CBGB’s band on this list and how can one not include one of the main regulars from the famous NYC club? Well you can’t and “Stop Making Sense” showcases the band just as they were gaining significant momentum. This record documents the tour that was happening as the band was charting in the States.

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Sonic Youth “Daydream Nation”

Often recognized as the most influential record from the 1980s that impacted music in the 1990s.  It is the transition from 1980s post punk to 1990s alternative rock.  It is what inspired bands like The Smashing Pumpkins and many others to come out of what defined Alternative music radio in the past two decades.  Their fifth album, “Daydream Nation,” got everyone’s attention.  “Teenage Riot” and “The Sprawl” are must listens when passing along one’s music experience to the next generation.  Sonic Youth is a band that feels timeless like they could be having hit singles over the past thirty years since so much of what we hear in the alternative music scene is influenced by how Sonic Youth approached their songs lyrically and musically.  Perhaps that influence will be heard when our kids are all grown up.  Knowing this album is key to understanding it all. It’s foundation. A sensory foundation that pleases even the most jaded music fan.

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New Order “Low Life”

This is New Order’s transitional record that took them from being the band that used to be Joy Division to becoming New Order. Finally leaving the baggage that was Joy Division and making art that begins the night club gods that New Order served as in the 1980s dance scene.  Songs like “The Perfect Kiss” and “Love Vigilantes” are essential New Order and still remain on the top of my list for best songs from them. There are deeper cuts too like “This Time of Night” and “Sooner Than You Think” that uplift with their heavily synthesized sophistication.

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The Cure “Head on the Door”

I discovered The Cure when videos like “Close to You” and “In Between Days” hit the MTv show “120 Minutes.”  This was the breakthrough album that got them international attention; though, it wasn’t even close to the crazy commercial success the had next with “Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me.”  “Head on the Door” is fun, playful, yet music any depressed alternative kid can enjoy while feeling they are part of an exclusive club of people who found the music holy grail that isn’t on the radio.  At least, that’s how it felt in the early 80s when all of us in our black and white clothes felt when listening to the Aqua Net hair extravaganza that was and still is Robert Smith.  Your kids need to know The Cure and there is no better way to understand what this band brings than “Head on the Door.” It is simply brilliant.

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R.E.M. “Document”

The best-known track is “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (and I Feel Fine)” but that isn’t why it made the list.  It’s here because this is R.E.M. at their peak.  “The One I Love” and “Finest Worksong” are classic R.E.M. that make you want to know more about the band.   This was the band’s first commercial success and started my love affair with their contribution to 80s alternative rock.  Spending some time reliving this album with your kids is something you can all enjoy, ending with who can sing all the words to “It’s the End of the World…”

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Prince “Sign O’ the Times”

There are so many excellent choices from Prince’s catalog.  Sign O’ the Times is a perfect combination of funk, soul, rock and pop culminating in his best single ever “I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man.” One aspect of Prince that is often overlooked is how amazing he is as a guitarist.  Sign O’ the Times showcases his guitar work in so many of its tracks.  Even The Cure’s Robert Smith called the album amongst the best things of the eighties. He was right and your child should get to know why.

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Michael Jackson “Thriller”

This was the last addition to the list.  I debated what uber mainstream album from the 80s or 90s is the most important for any child growing up in the 21st century to know. The obvious answer is “Thriller.”  For all of Michael Jackson’s faults, this record is the perfect pop example.  I recently found it in my vinyl collection and while big hits like “Beat It” and “Billie Jean” are always a good listen there are some deeper tracks that really stand out.  My favorites are “PYT: Pretty Young Thing” and the sentimental “Human Nature” both show the range this record embodies.  And in the end you can look up the “Thriller” video on YouTube to enjoy with your kids on Halloween.

  • Alex Hultgren

    Not a bad list my friend. 1984 and Thriller are critical. For the Police, I might have chosen Synchronicity simply because it had more “radio singles” on it than Zenyatta. Also probably would have gone for DK’s Fresh Fruit, since that broke the mold when it came out. A few omissions: London Calling, which came out in the US Jan 1980. The other main one was one of these 3: Foreigner 4, Journey Escape or Styx Paradise Theater, as all of those were probably the most commercially successful efforts of all 3 of those bands and were all competing on the charts at the same time.